Death Watch – short story interlude.
NB: This is based on a podcast involving Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington. Karl invented a watch that would tell you when you would die (the how of this was never really explored). I loved the idea. This isn’t for publication, but I’m hoping you’ll enjoy this.
2nd NB: I promised that I would start writing a word count for Finding Damo – the novel. I am currently on 8,827 words. Next blog should take me over 9k!
It was with a certain understandable resignation that Gordon pulled himself out of bed on the morning of his death. It was, he decided, not a good day to die. His head throbbed (aneurism?), his teeth felt as though he’d brushed his teeth with a hamster (poisoning?) and his stomach was roiling uncomfortably (oh gods no, not botulism!). He swung his legs off the bed and sat with his elbows on his knees and his hands over his face, trying to raise the willpower to stand up.
Just under ten hours. He stared blearily at the Pilkington on his wrist. Numbers counted down merrily, mocking him with every cheerful flicker.
9:45.56 9:45.55 9:45.54… 53… 52…
‘Rmph,’ Gordon said. Just under ten hours, and he was wasting time feeling sorry for himself. He had places to be.
After showering and brushing his teeth, Gordon felt better about the day. Not good, but better. His Pilkington Deathwatch had been warning him for weeks that today was the day, so he’d had plenty of time to prepare. His affairs were in order. His lawyer had his will. He’d told everybody he loved that he loved them (it was a depressingly short list). He’d sold his house and with the proceeds, bought himself a first class flight to Sydney to spend the last hours of his life with a girl whose online dating profile said she ‘wanted to hold a man while he died in her arms’. It seemed as good a way to go as any, unless he really did have botulism. But it was unlikely. He felt fine.
Actually, physically, he felt fantastic. There was no dizziness. No more headache. No unexplained aches or twitches. His pulse was within normal parameters. He left his hotel room for the last time in fine form, hopped into the waiting taxi and stared at his life ticking away as the vehicle whipped through the traffic to the airport (horrible car crash? No, too early).
8:23.23… 22… 21…
The taxi driver glanced at him and grunted sympathetically.
‘Last day?’ he asked. Gordon nodded. ‘I always wanted one of those. You know, way I drive? They just too damn expensive. Have you got long? I slow down?’
‘Eight hours and change,’ Gordon said. ‘I assume that means we’re safe.’
‘True. Of course, you maybe only badly hurt, and die later on of complications.’ Gordon heartily wished the driver hadn’t brought up that possibility.
‘Maybe you should slow down a bit then,’ he said. The driver obliged, but soon was back up to his regular breakneck speed, dodging into gaps that really weren’t big enough to fit a cab.
They reached the airport in record time, arriving at the drop off area just as the Pilkington hit eight hours. Gordon’s pulse was definitely over the recommended limits by now and the tip he gave the driver was more thanks for getting him there alive than for the quality of the service.
He had two hours until his flight. With one hour in the air and one hour in the taxi at the other end, that left him four hours with which to spend with the compassionate Carol and her loving arms. He took his time going through security and was escorted to the First Class lounge where he was given a glass of wine and a bowl of peanuts (late onset anaphylaxis?). He picked up a magazine from the pile in front of him and settled back to wait.
Forty-five minutes later (7:02.43… 42…) there was a ping from the departures board and all of the numbers shuffled around. Gordon lowered his magazine and watched with growing dismay as large red letters appeared on the screen next to his flight number.
No need to stress, he thought. Delayed could be just half an hour. Maybe an hour. Even two would be ok, if Carol was less than worried about the niceties. There was no modified time of departure. He tried to get interested in the article in front of him – something about salt-mining – but his eye was repeatedly drawn to the departures board and that crimson statement:
Finally, realising he wasn’t going to be able to relax, he stood up and went over to an obliging host.
‘Do you have any idea what’s happening with the plane to Sydney?’ Gordon asked. The host smiled broadly, for no apparent reason.
‘Let me see what I can find out for you, sir!’ He tapped at a computer. His smile faltered somewhat. He picked up a radio, turned his back on me and mumbled into the receiver. I could see the tension forming in his neck as he talked. I almost sympathised. Airline passengers are a cranky lot at the best of times. Having to deal with First Class airline passengers when something goes wrong would be a challenging job in anyone’s view.
And then the Pilkington caught his eye.
6:46.34… 33… 32…
and all sympathy evaporated. He watched the host take a deep breath and turn around, smile fixed firmly on his face.
‘Well, sir…’ he began, but Gordon was having none of it. He shoved his watch in the host’s face.
‘Do you see this? This is my life, slowly ticking away. I have spent an absolute fortune to ensure that I am in the lap of luxury in well under three hours. Her name is Carol. What’s going on?’
‘I am sorry, sir. Honestly I am. There is a fault with the plane. There is no way we will be able to get you to Sydney before. Well, you know.’
‘Are there any other flights? This isn’t an optional experience here. I have been planning this for weeks!’
‘I’m afraid not, sir. The football finals mean that all flights from Melbourne to Sydney are completely booked out. However,’ he added, rustling beneath the desk, ‘given the timely nature of your, er, imminent passing, this might interest you.’ He handed Gordon a brochure, blushing slightly as he did so. Gordon took the brochure, curious in spite of himself.
Join the MILE HIGH club.
‘Die up High,’ Gordon read. ‘This better have something to do with drugs, because if you’re suggesting I spend the last moments of my life in a damn aeroplane, I shall slap you with this brochure.’
‘Some people think it’s a novel experience,’ protested the host, backing away from the counter slightly.
‘You certainly can only do it once,’ Gordon said. ‘So you’re telling me, there’s absolutely no way that I can get to Sydney this afternoon?’
‘I’m afraid not,’ said the host.
‘And I don’t suppose you’ll refund my ticket?’
‘I, ah, well, it says quite specifically in the Terms and Conditions…’ The man was perspiring now. He was dealing with a man with nothing to lose, and Gordon was sure he was cursing whoever added the ‘foreknowledge of death’ clause to the standard terms of the flight booking.
‘Of course it does. Oh settle down. I have no intention of leaping the counter and making you eat this brochure,’ Gordon snapped.
6:43.12… 11… 10…
Yet, he thought.
What to do, he wondered, going back to his seat. He looked up at the host, who was now dealing with another irate would-be-flyer. He could, he supposed, go on a rampage and take as many people with him as he could (death by police shooting while force-feeding pamphlets to a sweating airport worker? Implausible at best). He could take up the airline on their Mile High experience, dying above the clouds in first class. Or he could just go home and die alone, to be found – oh no, wait. He had no home. He didn’t even have a hotel room any more. He looked at the watch with sudden fury.
‘It’s all your fault!’ he hissed at the inanimate object. ‘I didn’t need to know when I would die! Without you, I would be at work, massaging random strangers, and I’d just drop dead of – well, whatever, when the time came. Face-plant into a warm nest of sweaty, pliant, naked rich person. What a way to go.’ Given that alternative, he was happier to be in a First Class lounge at a top notch airport, even if he was going to miss out on Carol. He turned to pick up his glass of wine and almost eskimo-kissed the red-faced man whose face was only millimetres away from his own and who was now staring into his eyes with an expression that could best be described as ‘frantic’.
‘Are you dying today?’ asked the man. His breath was more alcohol than carbon dioxide, and Gordon placed a hand firmly on his chest and pushed him away. Unfortunately, this was Gordon’s watch arm, and the man grabbed his wrist and squinted at the Pilkington. ‘Aha!’
‘What? Why? Let go!’ Gordon said, pulling his hand back. ‘Everybody is more than unusually interested in my death today!’
‘Ah, but it’s not jusht yourrr death, y’see?’ the man said in a drunken slur. ‘Look’t this.’ He held out his arm, displaying his own Pilkington. Gordon read the screen on the device, somewhat unwillingly.
6:42.33… 32… 31.
Surprised, he brought his own Pilkington up beside his accoster’s.
The drunken man’s:
‘Well, that’s a coincidence!’ Gordon said with forced brightness. To be honest, the whole concept of dying was starting to be more trouble than it was worth.
‘Co-IN-shidensh?’ the man shouted, drawing looks from around the lounge. ‘Thish is no co-IN-shidensh!’ He was waving his arms around and overbalanced, falling into Gordon and knocking both of their glasses onto the ground. Gordon jumped to his feet.
‘Right. I’m getting out of here!’ he said, and walked up to the counter. ‘If I can’t die in the arms of poor sweet Carol, I may as well try and find someone closer to home.’ A hand clutched his arm. Not again, he thought. The woman next to him was deathly pale, her breathing shallow.
‘Did you say die?’ she said in a high, frightened voice. Sighing, Gordon held up his Pilkington. The woman glanced at it, looked back at his face, and then shrieked and grabbed his wrist. She held up her own. Another Pilkington, of course.
Gordon frowned. He gestured at the by now very flustered host.
‘Exactly when are we expected to fly into Sydney?’ Gordon asked, pretty sure he knew the answer.
‘Um,’ said the man, looking at the big company-logo clock on the wall. ‘I would say, if the new schedule is correct, you would land in just under seven hours.’ (fiery explosion due to malfunctioning plane. Ding!) The woman who would share his fate slumped to the floor, her eyes rolled back. The drunk man, listening in from behind, vomited into his wine glass. Gordon sighed once more and turned to the people waiting in the airport lounge.
‘Apparently,’ he said, ‘the flight to Sydney will be met by some calamity involving the death of myself, this gentlemen behind me and the reclining woman below.’ He held up his Pilkington. ‘I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I fully intend to find another way to spend my last hours. I recommend you do the same.’
The first class lounge host was on the phone, yelling into the receiver for security. Gordon picked up his bag and left the first class lounge, dodging panicked rich people as they stampeded for the exit. He looked at his Pilkington. It now read:
21y, 2m, 21d 18:23.12… 11… 10…
(heart attack? Oh, who cares?)
‘Interesting,’ he mused, as the security guards rushed past him and into the lounge. ‘Very interesting.’ He slipped the watch off his wrist and into his pocket and then pulled out his mobile phone. He texted Carol, letting her know he wouldn’t make their date this afternoon, but that if she ever made it to Melbourne, he’d love to catch up. He really didn’t expect a response.